By: Rajan Nanavati
It’s ironic to be writing this story after the Monday Night Football game we witnessed this week. The Kansas City Chiefs and Los Angeles Rams put on a demonstration of the future of offensive football, en route to the highest scoring game in Monday Night Football history. In fact, in the Rams’ 54-51 win over the Chiefs, the two teams combined to score the third-most points for a regular season game in league history.
But amidst all of that, there was one big problem – and it wasn’t a problem relegated exclusively to this Monday’s broadcast. The problem is: ESPN’s Monday Night crew, comprising play-by-play man Joe Tessitore, alongside analysts Jason Witten and Anthony “Booger” McFarland, are absolutely terrible… and that might be putting it rather nicely.
Let’s get Tessitore out of the way, because he’s “fine” in the most mediocre sense of the word. Whether he was calling plays for the Arizona Cardinals vs. Oakland Raiders game on Sunday, or the Monday Night game the next evening, nobody would’ve realized the difference. He’s generic and unremarkable. Given the guys working around him, that’s probably a good thing.
That brings us to Jason Witten. When Witten abruptly retired from the NFL last spring, to immediately transition into a career in broadcasting, it raised a few eyebrows. But three months into this experiment, fans no longer have raised eyebrows; they have bleeding coming out of their ears, from listening to Witten’s abject failure as an “analyst.”
Witten is a textbook case of the Peter principle: someone is promoted based on their success in previous jobs until they reach a level at which they are no longer competent. It’s like thinking a good salesman would make a great Chief Technology Officer because he once sold software at a previous job, or that a business tycoon would become a good President because he spent a lot of money lobbying the government to get things in his favor (hmm, something about that is ringing a bell).
ESPN clearly thought that Witten would be their version of Tony Romo: a guy who stepped away from the game and became an instant success as a color analyst. But whereas Romo actually analyzes the game like a quarterback, and teaches fans what they should be looking for, Witten, when he is not saying the same banal clichés spouted by every single football talking head on television, he’s either uttering sentences that make absolutely no sense (for instance: “touchdowns matter on Monday night;” as if they matter or less on Sunday afternoon?), or butchering pronunciations of player names (him trying to say Samson Ebukam’s name on Monday was like trying to teach an American toddler to speak classic German).
Perhaps that’s why ESPN added on McFarland to the broadcast — to help counter-balance Witten’s “rookie struggles,” given McFarland’s experience as a college football analyst. But the thing is, McFarland was great as a college football analyst, because he’d either work on shows that nobody really watched or cared about. When he did come on the main college football shows that people watched, it was for a short segment where he said absolutely nothing of value, and fans instantly forgot about him (if they ever paid attention to him in the first place).
Now, football fans are subjected to Witten audibly drowning in his own incompetence each broadcast, while he and McFarland trip over themselves as far as who can spout the next tired and trite statement that means absolutely nothing.
The NFL continues to treat Monday Night Football as the marquee matchup each week, even though it’s lost some of its luster that it used to hold among the American public. But with the guys that they have calling the game right now, that remaining appeal is only going to diminish if fans continue to be subjected to this nincompoopery of this trio